I’m not writing as much fiction as I should. I’m not writing as much as I was hoping for this year. What I am doing is refilling an empty creative tank.
In the last 2 years, my time, and numerous Amazon gift cards, have been spent on writing and self-improvement. Strange that while attempting to write short stories, I wasn’t reading many. Strange that I felt unease and envy while reading books whose purpose was explicitly to help further my goals, to bring what I wanted into focus. Strange that I felt empty after gorging on shit for two years.
I’m realizing that self-improvement books work on the same Fear Of Missing Out principle that leads to so much addiction and unhappiness on social media. Fear based advertising, tapping into that undercurrent of unease in all of us, that voice saying “I could live my life a lot better than I think I am”.
These self-improvement books are longform ads for buying into the lifestyle of the author, and therefore paying them for the same information over and over again, until you are broke or you start your own self-improvement company. This style of pyramid scheme is explicitly stated as the goal in some books (looking at you, Tim Ferris). Even something as classic, as ancient as stoicism, is commercialized with regurgitating the same thoughts about the Meditations. There’s even little memento coins you can buy now, you know, just like Seneca used! Buy them in lots of 7, one for each day of the week!
Writing books are lower quality versions of this, the White Castle to self-improvement’s Tasty Freeze. There’s a formula to these, as solid and tested as Lester Dent’s Master Fiction Plot. Spend a few chapters on the author’s background, how they became successful. Make everything cute. Repeat lines from On Writing and Bird By Bird. Flog other books. Hope that the audience never notices that they’ve written 22 writing instruction books and only one novel (Amazon Bestseller, though!), 9 years ago. Check out the YouTube channel for more tips!
So. I’ve improved, but only from a tithe of the books, videos, and advice I’ve binged on in my quest. It’s a slog, and I’d have been better served just jumping straight to “eat healthy, exercise, read and write, God Damn It!” instead of the parade of bullshit I brought on myself. But in the end, I’m reading, I’m writing, I’m living healthy. Wasn’t that the point?
By changing my inputs I’m changing how I view, interact with, and spend my time in the world. Part of this comes from limiting and removing inputs. It’s easy to slough off the more useless authors. I purged a number of them from my library. Personal libraries are gardens; in addition to cultivation, you have to weed out noxious and invasive books, no matter how pretty they appear.
But in the end, I’m reading, I’m writing, I’m living healthy. Wasn’t that the point?
When reading, I’ve gotten picky over the years. At one time I would have struggled through a book that was a slog. Now, I close it and move on. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever return to that book; sometimes, it’s a book that might speak to me later. Or maybe it’s one that used to be a favorite perennial read, but now the book and myself have parted ways. The upshot is, I don’t spend time forcing a book down my throat. Why should I fill my head with inputs that don’t resonate?
Skimming has become a new way of reading for me. Especially if it’s a book whose authorial viewpoint is at odds with my own. I’ll skim the book first, looking for some common ground. If there’s enough that’s interesting, I’ll read the book. If skimming just dredges up muck, then I’m done with the book. Easy.
But the best way I’ve found is to limit my inputs. This comes from spending almost no time online surfing, cutting out news sites and other short form articles (and any type of listicle), bowing out of social media, and as I said before, cutting out all types of self-improvement books, videos, and blogs.